Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where were you when they blew up the wall?

We all remember the scene when the Berlin Wall was finally torn down, marking a historic moment in the twentieth century when time stood still and we all could recall the tiniest detail of where we were and what we were doing. Another date that encapsulates the same recollection is 9/11, where we felt surrealism at its most perverse when we witnessed smoking towers tumble, turning into ashes. Thursday January 24th, 2008, is set to be another landmark on the calender and with good reason. Nothing is a more gripping image than a massive wall being broken down, and earlier this morning (or late last night my time) in Rafah, the barrier was blown up with a few blasts, enabling Gazans the freedom that they have been aching for since June. Here's coverage of the extraordinary incident by Al-Jazeera English:

Only two days ago I wrote about the embarrassing situation that has the international community blaming the Palestinians about the latest Israeli decision to put Gaza in a complete blackout. Amongst the agony of Gazans who have been subject to total closures and at times, the perfect laboratory to try out new weapons, we have the EU, Israel and now even a Presidential candidate bending over backward to appease Israel and its feared supporters. As the images of Palestinians having a brief taste of freedom, Barack Obama is showing just what kind of steel he is made of by declaring to Ambassador Khalilzad that Israel had no option but to hermetically seal Gaza. The letter is making its rounds in the blogosphere, querying as to what Obama can accomplish with such a cowardly line. The answer: votes.

The joyous scenes is following closely with Martin Luther King Day, evoking his much cited "I Have a Dream" speech in where he bellows that "We are free at last." Yes, Palestinians finally have broken the prison that has caged them in since Hamas took control of the Strip. Streams of thousands piled into Egyptian Rafah, and stocked up on what they could get their hands on; cheese, concrete, iron, oil. diesel, cigarettes, foam mattresses, cleaning materials, flour, glass plates, mats, blankets; nothing was too scarce for these Gazans. Rafah had not seen anything like it before, as people came in droves, as well as donkey and carts, in order to taste some form of autonomy. Hosni Mubarak stated that they were "hungry" as he ordered his troops to help Gazans load up on supplies and usher them back to the crossing. That piece of altruism is shocking considering Egypt has done plenty to allocate the suffering of Gazans on Hamas, as well as collaborate with the occupier that this is the best thing to do for their security. Cairo has been seeing protests about their role in the closure for months, and it seems that with the prisonbreak, it would have been too embarrassing in front of a live connected media to deny these Palestinians some sort of relief. Mubarak has problems already; a confrontation with ordinary Palestinians just days after human rights organisations expressing deep concern over their plight would have been a wedge in his presidency.

And how ironic is it that Israel, the US and the West is blaming Hamas for the wreckage wreaked on Gaza, saying it's Hamas' fault that Palestinians are living with no electricity, no sewage control, no water, etc. that Hamas is the one responsible for setting them free of Israel's strangehold. Amira Hass reports:

"Hamas operatives had been sawing away the foundations of the wall between Egyptian and Palestinian Rafah for a few months to make it easier to blow it up when the time came, a source close to the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Rafah told Haaretz Wednesday.

A central Hamas operative partially confirmed the report, although he told Haaretz it was PRC operatives who had prepared to breach the wall, while Hamas policemen did not interfere. In any case, Hamas has for months been discussing the need to take the initiative in ending the siege of Gaza.

Apparently, after four days of hermetic closure, following months of siege, the planners believed the political and social conditions were ripe to bring down the iron wall that Israel had put up."

What we have here now is a problem: how can the world continue to blame the suffering on Hamas when it is they who seem to be the only one concerned about the Palestinians? How can we continue to accuse them of selfishness, cutting their own electricity for "propaganda purposes" and isolate them when they blow up a wall that has encased Gazans to their worst nightmare? How can we stop Gazans from responding positively to Hamas when they do so many things that help them?

That is the dilemma now that is posed for the West. Hamas has done what no other body was able to do: give relief to Palestinians, give them access to aid and supplies, and most importantly, give them (a brief sense of) freedom. This latest event has bodly defined what Palestinians have been saying all along: the world is indifferent to their suffering. All the lip service about two-states, refugees, and freedom has led them to a closed area that is one of the most densely populated in the world. The world looks on by, talks the good talk while doing nothing to stop Israeli atrocities that claim more and more lives. We sit in horror as Olmert overtly claims that his policy is a collective punishment, and yet the international community does nothing about it. In fact, it does worse than nothing: it praises the oppressor for dealing with it swiftly! Now that is hubris.

The suffocation of the Gazans as a strategy by the West to weaken Hamas culminated at the Rafah border. With stunning clarity, the explosions that broke down the barrier were the metaphor that highlighted the failure of the international consensus. Only uncanny timing can explain Kathleen Christison's article on the illegitimacy of the "international consensus" (IC) as a broker in the Israel-Palestine conflict appearing on the same date that the wall fell, focusing on how the IC has failed in even accounting for a Palestinian commentary on peace talks and negotiations. Christison is scathing on the purposes of the IC:

"The international community does not initiate policies; it merely parrots and goes along with the positions promoted by the centers of international power, in this case the U.S. and Israel.

There is in fact no international consensus supporting two states for Palestine-Israel. Those who cite UN Security Council Resolution 242 as the basis...did not even mention Palestinians except as "the refugee problem" and clearly did not put forth a proposal for two states in Palestine-Israel."

The advocacy of a one-state solution is consistently criticised by two-staters because of an agreement by the IC that two-states is what the world can accept. But the IC has always been dormant on Palestinian demands; hence the IC is only a lapdog for the superpowers who dictate policy of the conflict, aka the US and Israel since the fall of the Soviet Union.

What has the IC done for Gaza? Nothing but jargon and rhetoric. The UN is inept and Europe only wants to placate the US and Israel. Canada is silent, China is indifferent as they have nothing to gain, Russia is ineffective and Australia is mute on the topic. Six months went by and Gaza was a massive prison with the IDF exercising impugnity on helpless Palestinians. They turned off the lights, bombs flew and Gazans were starved; the IC sat on their hands and gave Israel a pat on the back for stealthly dealing with the irritating Qassams. Have we forgotten that Qassams are still being launched despite the sanctions and blockades? Or the narrative that Qassam fire was preceded by IDF-inflicted deaths? Where are the results that would justify this collective punishment that is a violation of the Geneva Accords?

Without a doubt the Rafah breach is a bitter rebuke to not only the IC but also on Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party. While Abu Mazen propped up his phony government to play the game of peacetalk with Olmert and Bush, he candidately embraced the IC's dismissal of anything Gaza-related. Annapolis is the perfect paradigm of this: constructed and supervised by the two heavyweights directing orders to the beaten. Gaza was not even mentioned in Annapolis. It is a rude awakening to Abu Mazen as he struggles to gain any hint of success through his process of engagement (or collusion?) while Hamas took a big stride for Palestinian resistance. Israel maintains its construction in the West Bank and violence has increased during the Annapolis timeframe: this is what the Palestinians have gained when playing peace with the occupier and its most ardent supporter (and exporter of arms and aid). This is what they have struggled for? More housing for Israelis? More land theft? More grievances and lost trees and crops?

Now Abbas faces a test that he has to match Hamas' resolve and message that the IC, US and Israel do not have the Palestinians' best interest at heart. The Palestinians have taken it upon themselves to break free of the entrapments and impasses that has afflicted them for so long. They were not meant to take matters in their own hands; the elite is meant to resolve this issue for them. But you could forgive them into thinking that the world has forgotten about them. Jeff Halper testifies of the Palestinian temperment of not giving in:

"Not only have the Palestinians experienced the dehumanization all oppressed and colonized peoples experience, not only have they been made into the embodiment of the rich and powerful's greatest fear, evil "terrorists" who may tear down their privileged "civilization," but they have been turned into guinea pigs...

And yet the Palestinian people -- and in particular those who remain sumud, steadfast, in Palestine -- continue not only to resist but to surprise and confound its would-be Israeli master at every turn. Despite unlimited control, a complete monopoly over the use of force, utter callousness and a vaunted Shin Beit, Israel's military intelligence, Palestinians vote as they want, resist, carry on their daily lives with dignity -- and blow huge holes in the walls and policies constructed in order to imprison and defeat them."

Certainly the fight is not over. Egypt will close the border, Israel will remain its tight squeeze on Hamas, and the world will try to isolate them again. But the piercing of the bubble might shake a few people to realise that Gazans are not living normal lives and that Israel is not being a benevolent occupier. Annapolis is on thin ice as of this moment and Hamas may have made the West take them seriously. There is plenty of resistance against the other wall that demarcates the West Bank into swiss cheese. They stand up to their bullies every day demanding justice. The world has been shamed by the Palestinians: Will they take this notice of despair and respond this time?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Who's being duped?

January 19th:

"My driver tonight informed me all gas stations in Gaza are out of gas. All gas in Gaza enters via Israel, which directly or indirectly controls all of Gaza’s borders. Two days ago Israel allowed the last shipment in.

Yesterday, an empty government building was bombed by an F-16. Over forty civilians were wounded, mainly children. One woman was killed. Most of them were near the building attending a wedding...

The UN’s food aid trucks are being prevented from entering Gaza as well...

Bakeries have closed, they are out of flour...

Electricity comes and goes but tonight I have the honor of turning off my own lights as I go to sleep.

January 20th:

"1:57 minutes we have left before the power is shut off in all of Gaza. Most of the power lines from Gaza’s main electricity station have already run dry, two lines remain...

People are panicking and buying up what is left to buy. In less than two hours we wait in the dark to see what is to come."

(Compliments of Philip Rizk at Tabula Gaza.)

As we sit, we're at an impasse of what is to be done with Gaza (and Hamas). Talks in the Knesset about what to do to counter those pesky Qassams, ranging from dialogue to a full-scale assault on the tiny strip. Battles in the international forum about Israel's crippling sanctions, and the usual sophistry that is only matched by the "troop-surge" illusion. Cries of boycotts, sanctions and activism from the left about the appalling conditions being inflicted on the Palestinians. Israel cuts off the power in Gaza, and now the overpopulated strip is the subject of discussion again.

Opinion pages are rife with brash bravado on what to do with those Gazans. None has ever fit the mold of the Orwellian-reality that we live in today than this beauty from the Jerusalem Post.

Titled "Hamas's dupes", the editorial is cynical in its conception that aims to deflect the blame of Gaza's turmoil on Israel. With a leading EU representative condemning Israel's "collective punishment", it perceives to depict the EU as an ally of Hamas all because it simply did what all the human rights organisations do: urge Israel to cease its seige on the Gaza Strip. The article has no shame; for instance, this particularly laughable sentence:

"Israel obviously has no interest in causing suffering of any kind in Gaza, and every interest in encouraging Palestinian development, absent the war Hamas is waging against Israel."

Israel has not only prevented any kind of development in Gaza (see Sara Roy's book The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-Development), it has made more offensives in the last week that created more casualties. It is responsible for the sonic booms, the invasion of airspace, army raids, border closures, and now the limitations on fuel, gasoline, hospital supplies and food, and we're meant to believe that they have "no interest in causing suffering of any kind in Gaza", when they admit that doing these things will make them suffer. Ehud Olmert summed it all up in his latest rant:

"But we have no intention of making their lives easier... as far as I am concerned, every resident of Gaza can walk because they have no gasoline for their vehicles, because they have a murderous regime that doesn't let people in southern Israel live in peace".

Straight from the Prime Minister's mouth: they are not going to make their lives easier. But you would not know it if you took the Jerusalem Post's point of view.

They continue to labast Hamas and its failure to curb the Qassams. Hamas has not been able to stop it because of its own pressure internally; Hamas made the fundamental mistake of joining the PA, and now is no longer seen as a grassroots resistance movement that it once was. Other factions are pushing it to reject all claims to ceasefire, especially since Israel has not relinquished one bit at any core issue. This is what Hamas got for taking part in phony elections? That's a lesson learned in the Middle East political game. And now Hamas will be seen as being soft, or perhaps another Fatah that abandons its people.

But all is not lost here:

"There is, moreover, no greater act of "collective punishment" than randomly firing missiles at the homes of innocent civilians."

How many times are we going to potray Hamas as the only ones guilty of such a crime? Despite at the articles insistence at Israel's goodwill of "uprooting not only every settlement, but also cemeteries and the security strip along the border between Gaza and Egypt", Gaza is still in complete Israeli control.

"Gaza is occupied, and with greater brutality than before. The fact that it is more convenient for the occupier to control it from outside has nothing to do with the intolerable living conditions of the occupied...

In the last two months, Israel killed 224 Palestinians, 62 of them children and 25 of them women. It bombed and assassinated, destroyed and shelled, and no one stopped it. No Qassam cell or smuggling tunnel justifies such wide-scale killing. A day doesn't go by without deaths, most of them innocent civilians."

It is all the more pathetic that hot on the heels of this editorial comes another EU official expressing regret at the EU's treatment of Israel. What kind of treatment that is is beyond my understanding. As far as I can remember, Europe has been slow in every part of the issue, quick to get in the same line as the US, and in other aspects, colludes with the two powers in the destruction of the Palestinians. Sure, they say good things; but those good things don't matter when you are powerless to do anything about it, no?

"There has been a large misunderstanding in recent years between Europe and Israel. And Israel is justified in its concerns. For too long, Europe has put too much blame on Israel for lack of peace with the Palestinians. We, as Europeans, should have understood Israel's concerns sooner,” said [Frano] Frattini."

Talk about a Hamas idealogue if you ever had one. In it, Frattini also concluded that the sanctions on Gaza are not a war crime, that they criticised Israel unfairly, and that "Europe's attitudes towards Israel is changing", ie that it's harder and harder to criticise them because of a backlash. It bears relation to Omar Barghouti's final words:

"It seems European elites are currently determined never to oppose Israel, no matter what crimes it commits."

Even if it commits the egregious crime that created the Geneva Convention in the first place. As we have it, people with logic are seeing that this hardline will only make things worse and not better.

"There has never been a more urgent need for the international community to act to restore normality in Gaza. Hungry, unhealthy, angry communities do not make good partners for peace."

Dror Ze'evi noted in his piece that Hamas was more than willing to have a ceasefire in exchange for open borders. It's a very enlightening read, ensuring the futility of an attack that will only enable the hardliners that Israel attempts to remove from Gaza. Hamas offered a period of quiet for 20-25 years. That's amazing! Israel's answer?

"The Israeli officials we presented these messages to rejected us with contempt."

So much for its intention for Gazans not to suffer. But the powercuts, the gas shortages, the border closures only is reinforcing what Palestinians were stressing a long time ago: that Israel wants them removed from the land, and this is the way they go about doing it. Make their lives a misery so they will want to leave the land. And that is why Gazans are getting pissed off; some may even find redemption in punishing their oppressor. Hamas is offering something that might deter this battle of finality:

"Gaza is home to a regime that, despite its violent takeover of the Strip, represents many of its residents and is also supported by many in the West Bank. Hamas’ Gaza rulers are indeed different than West Bank rules and are uninterested in a historical compromise with Israel, but they are interested in shifting the conflict from the battlefield to the diplomatic field and are making logical proposals. We should listen to them."

With the usual hubris, the JPost editorial finds no equivalence with Israeli and Palestinian suffering. Sderot suffers from the barrage of Qassams; their residents never asked for that? "What have the citizens of Sderot done to Gazans or Hamas?" It ridiculously asks. What did 35 percent of civilians killed in 2007 ever do to Israel? How many Sderot residents were claimed by Qassams (two)? "This is the lowest number of Israeli civilian casualties since the beginning of the Intifada." What about 31 Gaza children killed in 31 days? Is that Hamas's fault too? What did they ever do to Sderot or Israel? Be a Gazan?

Of course there is no equivalence. Gaza is totally obliterated. That is "life as usual". I leave with a quote from Lenin's Tomb:

"Life as usual. What does that look like, I wonder? It wouldn't be starvation, fuel shortage, water shortage, disease, regular raids, blockade and occupation, would it? It would? Ah. Alright so."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Burning Issue

In amongst the hoopla, there have been more than one key instances indicating how important the Israel/Palestine issue is to today's Western society, and more appropriately and acurately, to the Presidential elections that is set to begin shortly after all the candidacy races that is hotly contested all through the major swing states in the US. Annapolis is receding as a relevant summit, and its importance is being severly undermined as time progresses in the occupied territories, and the West Bank is being further corroded into a tiny slivet of a contiguous region. But that has not stopped all the vibrant rhetoric from being regurgitated between the party players, ie, President George W Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Quite a remarkable achievement is that Bush has went out of his way to (attempt) pressure Israel into compliance of the former Road Map and the revised version called Annapolis.

"Bush, when asked about the outposts, said simply and directly, "The outposts, yeah, they ought to go. Look, we've been talking about it for four years. The agreement was get rid of outposts, illegal outposts, and they ought to go."

What was also remarkable was the fact that Bush himself acknowledged that the Palestinian refugee issue had to be addressed (for once), but his solution has been far from the consensus that has been agreed upon by the international powers outlined in UN Resolution 242. Bush declared that "Palestinian refugee families should be compensated, rather than returning to former homes in what is now Israel". This is defiance of Resolution 242, which charges that only the refugees can decide on gaining compensation for lost land. In crude terms, Bush has asserted that there is no relief for the refugees languishing in huts and camps except for the fact that they will gain money for their loss. They take their land, deny their existence, and pay them off as if they will go away with a hefty bribe; and this is Bush's magical solution to solve the refugee problem, even though it is more than evident that most of them want to return to their past homeland. Although the statement does indeed bear responsibility on Israel for creating the refugee status, it falls far short of direct recognition of the catastrophe, even bypassing the justice that the Palestinians are entitled to after their extirpation.

"On the Israeli side, that includes ending settlement expansion and removing unauthorised outposts."

But the US is the main funder of those pesky settlements. It would be funny if the consequences were not so serious. And then Bush went his way to another Mideast nation to talk about democracy there too.

Not to be outdone was our very good friend Ehud Olmert, parroting the dovish-line whenever the big bad Bush comes around to criticise Israel. Even though Olmert seems to have gone through some changes as of late (maybe a little too coincidental as the timing of the Winograd report and Bush's lameduck status), many of his policies are reflecting his very brutish style when he was mayor of Jerusalem. Olmert says good things, but it's not being represented where it counts. "Olmert told the cabinet earlier Sunday that it is a disgrace that Israel hasn't taken action to remove unauthorized outposts", juxtaposed with what a Peace Now spokesperon told Israel Radio that "since Olmert took office, not a single outpost has been dismantled. Olmert should stop acting like a commentator and start taking action against illegal outposts."

Olmert is doing a courageous job trying to balance a lopsided scale (the right being the heavyweight). He is pushing his coalition to the brink with his insolence, with Barak breathing down his neck and now Lieberman quitting the Knesset over Olmert's attempts at negotiation. What a silly gesture indeed, but somewhat alarming since any negotiation with the Palestinians is deemed a threat. This is the attitude that prevails in the Israeli sector. There is a right (Olmert), and then their is right of the right (Barak). Then you have Lieberman, who's only difference is the fact that he openly states what the main objection is: removal of the Palestinians. But Olmert need not worry if he is in need of support: Gideon Levy outlined what would be a peace coalition that could help swing Olmert's words into Olmert's deeds. That is, if he truly is serious about all of this.

Because we've been through this track before. And it is a lesson that is learned the hard way when you are a Palestinian. Looking ahead, it's hard not to be skeptical. The facts are showing that Bush really is inept, as he is in his final year, and now powerless to be any kind of effectual. Olmert can give lip-service (and he's doing it well) and sit idly by until the new President is elected, and then we can go through this motion for another four years. Because back in 2004, you would not have seen Bush say such things against Israel; it would have jeorpardised his chances for re-election. And now there's no reason for him to toe the line, so he does what he thinks might give him a better reputation than the one he is carrying as of right now. Too little, too late? Perhaps, but if any progress is borne from this, then maybe it's more than welcome. I certainly enjoy seeing Presidents and politicians excoriate the occupation, even though their words mean nothing without action.

So why no action? Former President Jimmy Carter was the most outspoken proponent of the Palestinian cause (still to date, and that was almost thirty years ago), which cost him dearly. Bush's dad tried to mediate a more balanced approached (even though it was less than balanced), and he was removed. Reagan was Israel's greatest ally, and he took two terms. Clinton kept quiet on the issue until his final year. Bush junior is doing the same. Do we have a problem here?

We're recycling images of past peace processes. Just like Oslo, we're seeing more violence and building of houses under Annapolis, when we're meant to be seeing the exact opposite to help "build confidence".

"Dr [Mustapha] Barghouthi presented data showing that Israeli militarykillings of, and attacks against, Palestinians have soared by 100% since Annapolis, confirming an intensification of Israeli military violence against the Palestinian people even after the meeting on 27 November 2007.He highlighted that the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed in 2007 had risen to 40:1, up from 30:1 in 2006 and 4:1 from 2000-2005.

Barghouthi also focused on Israeli settlement expansion and their refusal to dismantle any existing settlements... maintains 133 settlements in the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) which have population of 447,500, and which are equally illegal under international law. Moreover, Israel continues to build in 88 of the sesettlements.

Barghouthi stressed that settlement expansion is being facilitated by Israel's 'Roads and Tunnels' Plan."

All the while Gaza is crushed daily, Hamas is derided, and we're getting numbers that Israel slaughters children, whom are viewed as "terrorists". We get "firm opposition" from settlement blocs in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and yet Israel continues with its new construction.

"The neighborhood's [of Maaleh Hazeitim] initial construction provoked an international storm in September 1997, and the United States pressured Israel not to go ahead with the plan. The pressure was rebuffed by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and backed by Jerusalem's mayor at the time, Ehud Olmert."

Who else could stand up against the US and defy their criticism? We should not forget here that this is in direct violation of international law. We should also not forget that the US has the power to stop all of this construction. We should also never forget that actions like these should be accounted for. We should never ever forget that the Palestinians have a right to self-determination, and new settlements around East Jerusalem will destroy their right that any other person (rightfully) demands. Israel has to be stopped; Bush has already said so, Olmert says so, past politicians and Presidents say so; why has this not been solved?

As we near apartheid with Jewish only roads, the burning issue that is preventing any progress here is because of the Israel Factor, or the Lobby. Yes, it's contested from the left, right and the centre. But it exists, and it is far from any normal lobby here. It has a great deal of clout, and it has plenty of supporters in where it counts. It is in many combinations, such as sympathy and allegiance, as well as just plain cowardice, but the Israel Factor is what is halting any US politician from castigating Israel. They openly admit it also.

No other country could brazenly pride themselves with such bravado of power over another government. Also, no other country really has so much at stake at the Presidential race than Israel. In the most liberal newspaper in Israel, they have a section called "the Israel Factor". Here they table out who is best for Israel's interests. Not surprisingly, Guiliani is number one with Clinton a close second. Obama is ranking a 5 (while it was much lower about two weeks ago), and one of my favourites from the past Chuck Hagel got a lowly 3.5. It's easy to see how the rankings is determined: Hagel's description is "The Senator for Nebraska believes that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is central to bringing about Middle East peace." That ranks low. The high flyers are very pro-Israel, ie hawkish. So we get more of the same. No big changes here.

These are our best candidates to control the Israel-Palestinian issue. Clinton, Obama, McCain, Romney, Huckabee. Arrgh. They do not differ much. It's more or less the same. For instance, here's Obama's recent track record on Israel/Palestine:

"During the past two years, however, Obama has largely taken positions in support of the hard-line Israeli government, making statements virtually indistinguishable from that of the Bush administration...

Obama has insisted “we should never seek to dictate what is best for the Israelis and their security interests” and that no Israeli prime minister should ever feel “dragged” to the negotiating table...

Obama acknowledged the reality that that “nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people,” as a result of the stalled peace process he has since placed the blame for the impasse not on the Israeli occupation but on the Palestinians themselves...

Obama rushed to Israel’s defense [during the Lebanon War], co-sponsoring a Senate resolution defending the operation. Rather than assign any responsibility to Israel for the deaths of over 800 Lebanese civilians, Obama claimed that Hezbollah was actually responsible for having used “innocent people as shields.”

The senator’s press spokesman did not respond to my subsequent requests for more credible sources. This raises concerns that an Obama administration, like the current administration, may be prone to taking the word of ideologically driven right-wing think tanks above those of empirical research or principled human rights groups and other nonpartisan NGOs.) Indeed, Obama’s rhetoric as a senator has betrayed what some might view as a degree of anti-Arab racism. He has routinely condemned attacks against Israeli civilians by Arabs but has never condemned attacks against Arab civilians by Israelis."

Stephen Zunes also indicates that the Lobby is responsible for Obama's shift that "it’s quite reasonable to suspect that pressure from well-funded right-wing American Zionist constituencies has influenced what Obama believes he can and cannot say." This is the best we can expect from all the Presidential hopefuls?

How about another one? Huckabee? The Israel Factor ranking has him at 6, and a reletive unknown with his policies on Israel-Palestine. Well, look no further as he is now getting in bed with the rest of the cronies for Israel. Philip Weiss shows an exchange he had with Wolf Blitzer "in which he calls for an Israeli state in all of Mandatory Palestine, from the Jordan to the sea, and there's enough room for the Arabs in Arab lands." Sounds more like the resigned Lieberman rather than a Presidential hopeful.

What about Clinton? She supports the embassy being moved to Jerusalem. That's a no-brainer.

This, my friend, is the major indicator of how things will be in the future. It is "the issue that dare not speaks its name". Here is Justin Elliott on Mother Jones:

"In nine of the 11 debates, the terms Israel, Palestinians, and Gaza were either never uttered or were mentioned once or twice peripherally. For instance, Joe Biden said at the October 30 NBC debate that Pakistan has missiles that can reach Israel. The two exceptions were the November 15 Democratic debate in Las Vegas, where Bill Richardson, unprompted, briefly outlined his ideas for a two-state solution, and the December 4 Democratic radio debate on NPR, in which moderator Robert Siegel posed the single question about Israel of the past 11 debates. Unfortunately, the query was effectively avoided. Excerpt of Edwards and Obama dodging, after the jump.

"When we do things that policymakers in
Washington may think are rational, like very strong support of Israel, that also
upsets a lot of those 1 billion Muslims you've described. How would you, Senator
Edwards ... answer the complaint that the U.S., in its support of Israel, is so
pro-Israeli, it can't be an evenhanded, honest broker of matters and is

Edwards proceeds to ignore the question, makes a point about Ahmadinejad and says to improve relations with Muslims we must "help make education available to fight global poverty." He makes no mention of Israel/Palestine. Siegel then turns to Obama. The senator says we need to close Guantanamo and talk not just to our friends but to our enemies. He, like Edwards, doesn't touch the Israel issue. To their credit, Dodd and Kucinich do a much better job at engaging.

So in the past 11 debates the grand total of references to the Gaza Strip is zero. Considering that Israel is our biggest ally in the Middle East and the biggest recipient of U.S. aid in the world, isn't it about time the candidates were asked what they think of our ally's destructive policies in Gaza? Will any moderator have the courage to pose the question?"

Effectively removed has been Gaza, and it's slowly being that apartheid of the West Bank is the normalisation of relations. The Palestinian state is the one determined by Israel, not by both countries. Deal with it. The big talk is just alot of bark; the politicians have no bite. And because of the stranglehold that percepetions of Israel/Palestine and its pro-Israel henchman has on Washington's balls, we're doomed to see more recycled images for another four years. How much longer can we suffer such horrific stories of occupation? How much longer can the Palestinians live as refugees with no home and no country? How much longer can we tolerate those who fund settlements and give support to what is a major bloc towards justice? How long are we going to stay silent while Palestinians are being pushed over the edge of destitution? How many more lives will it take until we say enough is enough?

This is the burning issue: the Israel Factor is one that determines policies, and one who determines a candidate's job or status. They can differ on so many issues domestically, or even on Iraq, but we can always count on one thing: they will always play favourites to the Jewish state. The lessons of the past cannot be forgotten. Take them on at your own perile.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Another slip for Olmert?

Just before Annapolis, Ehud Olmert gave a nice shock to the world when he made a statement that was all but taboo. It was quite earth-shattering; or it should have been, since it was the Prime Minister of Israel who went where no American politician was willing to go (besides an ex-President) and give credence to an apartheid analogy. Back then, Olmert made the summit of Annapolis quite the curtain call, and made the two-state solution the existential solution for Israel to remain a Jewish state. I shall remind us of what he said because it is an iconic moment:

"He [Olmert] warned of a "South African-style struggle" which Israel would lose if a Palestinian state was not established."

Olmert must be aware of the growing awareness of the "apartheid" struggle, hence his connections of Annapolis, peace processes, settlements, security and the Palestinian state being tied to the one-state solution. It didn't take a genius to clue in that with all the pitfalls of past "peace processes" that only caged in the Palestinians and even to some extent, made the occupation worse, that Palestinians both inside and outside the territories would be calling for a system that would abolish the ideology that discriminates against them and prevents them from having any rights as a human being. How long could the Palestinians trust that Israel and the US had their best interests at heart? We're heading towards the forty-first year of this "ephermeral" occupation, and with no end in sight.

But Olmert has gone a step further, this time even admitting that Israel is "not honouring its commitments" under the protocols of Annapolis; ie deconstruction of settlements or the cessation of settlement activity. Remember to bookmark that article, because it is very scarce that any politician would admit any wrong doing, let alone one that has the stakes riding on the Holy Land. Here he is at his most blatant:

"Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, called continued Israeli construction in West Bank settlements a breach of Israel's obligations under a peace plan revived in the US city of Annapolis last year.

Olmert's remarks, which appeared in an interview with the Jerusalem Post newspaper on Friday, came days before George Bush, the US president, arrives in the region.

He said: "There is a certain contradiction in this between what we are actually seeing and what we ourselves promised."

"Obligations are not only to be demanded of others, but they must also be honored by ourselves. So there is a certain problem here."

We're making great strides here and yet taking five steps backwards in the process; Israel is acknowledging that they have yet to hold up their part on the "peace" bargaining, and the onus is not SOLELY on the Palestinians to achieve some form of security blanket for Israel's kooks. With the largest military contingent and an array of nuclear weapons in the region completely dominating against a stateless, army-less and sometimes government-less people, it really is beside the point, is it not? Because Abbas the pretender cannot even keep a strangehold on his own territory, let alone attempt to gain control of Gaza. Or is Gaza simply left off the picture?

The history of the conflict is reaching new parameters now, and Olmert is taking bold steps where no Israeli leader has dared to travel: not only has there been some form of acceptance of a Palestinian struggle, it also translates that there is a justified nationalism within the Palestinian community, hergo recognition of a Palestinian right to exist. In stark comparison to past leaders who simply refused to believe that a Palestinian existed at all, or those archaic no non-sense apologists who still declare Jordan a "Palestinian state", the year 2008 may well be one of many strides and yet one of many disappointments: The strides because lately there seems to be a good turn about of opinion, not only here in Canada and the States, but also some in Israel. The disappointments because the Zionists are not going to give up without a fight, and it's a fight that they know all too well and play very dirty. We need no reminder of who they are but they still hold the high card here. Just a peak into any comment section in Ha'aretz, the Jerusalem Post, or even the NOW Magazine here in Toronto and it's plain to see that old perceptions are still hard to let go. But what's more stunning is the way the Palestinian perspective is creeping into these publications. An interesting article appeared in NOW detailing the truth about Canada Park, which was built on Palestinian land in the West Bank and subsided by your Canadian taxpayer. (Very) Slowly, the public is getting some facts about Israel's occupation that was not available to them a decade ago (unless you did some extensive research of your own).

Juxtapose these with the fact that the boycott campaign is still getting an audience, the human rights reports on the Lebanon War last year condemning Israel for its actions (as well as Hizbollah, mind you), and other little reports that are slipping its way into the internet is really unmasking David for the Goliath he really is. It's not easy to keep all of this under wraps, and with every threat into Gaza leaving more Palestinians dead, the occupation is not quite so "benevolent" as Israel's supporters would claim it to be. In Ramallah, another life is in critical condition with three shots to the back of the head by the IDF. And this is the West Bank, under Abbas' soveriegnity. Because it is Fatah-controlled, therefore Hamas is left to dry, as two of their members were taken by Israel. This is the way it will be under the current blueprint for two states: Israel imposes its will, the Palestinians have no choice but to be humiliated.

But what is the most damning are those settlements. And I hate to be a broken record but it is this attempt to "create facts on the ground" that ultimately will lead to another intifada or another disaster, whichever comes first. Making apartheid is something that should not be tolerated, and it seems that most Western nations are complicit since there is no outcry or no cessation of funds that continue to pay for these violations of international law. Whether it be the United States, Canada, Australia or Great Britain, there is a trickle that connects us with the occupation in one form or another, however minute it could be. It's as simple as your tax dollars finding its way into the Middle East or a purchase from the biggest bookstore in the city. I'm not equating this ignorant act from one that overtly supports Israel, but if we do educate ourselves maybe we can help this boycott a little, create a fiasco over those settlements that is strangling the Palestinians fight for a state.

Why such an opposition towards these settlements? Not only are they illegal, but they are infringing on every part of Palestinian life. They are deleting the agriculture, the economy of the Palestinians, surrounding their villages into enclaves, cutting them off from other parts of the West Bank (especially East Jerusalem) and finding their water going to the Jews. It has gotten so bad that the Israeli government is withholding the publication of the Spiegel Report for fears that the conclusion would not be pleasing for Washington. (Missing the point entirely since Bush has been silent on this issue and basically legitimised it a couple of years back.)

"Military sources said that the report has been kept secret to avoid embarrassing Israel's relations with Washington.

Under the internationally-backed roadmap, Israel must freeze all settlement activities and vacate settlements constructed after March 2001.

The Spiegel report is seen as the largest database ever compiled by state authorities on settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian lands.

It reveals extensive building in key settlements, often on privately owned Palestinian lands.

The report's data came from the Civil Administrative and other Israeli government agencies as well as from photographic sorties carried out by civilian aircraft.

The report was compiled in response to incomplete figures provided by the government on settlement activities in the occupied lands."

The Report revealed what was known to everyone on the ground; so this was not news. However, due to the censorship of the authorities, it is all the more damning that these settlements are the focal point of the occupation, one that is displacing Palestinians, usurping their land and making them refugees in the process. Attempting to deflect the issue, it only makes the case against the settlements stronger. All along, this activity has been relatively tolerated by the West, leaving Palestinians to fend for themselves, putting faith in brokered agreements that was meant to alleviate the hardship of a land stolen. Oslo, Taba, Camp David, the Road Map; this all led to more settlements. The Palestinian state was a desired 22% of historic Palestine; now they are left with half of the West Bank with the Jordan Valley in complete Israeli control. Jeff Halper said that Israel will have "two Eastern borders". That's unheard of in today's civilised society.

Now with Olmert admitting that Israel is not doing its part for the sake of peace, we've got no option now but to demand that Israel cease the construction of "extended" settlements. To find out the toll the Palestinians are taking thanks to the settlers, read this enlightening article by Janine Roberts. She witnesses how the farmers are subjected to the settlers, how the Israeli soldiers are reluctant to remove them or accost them when they do harm to civilians, and how the police are arriving too little and too late. When the settlers are removed, "the young settlers reoccupied it as they had done every other time". The army would evict them only for the settlers to return at night. They have a free reign on the land.

"Everywhere I travelled around the West Bank, from Nablus in the north to Hebron in the south, from Jerusalem to Jericho... Israeli’s army aggressively patrols every Palestinian town and village seemingly at least once a week – and everywhere the Israeli settlements were busily expanding and establishing new outposts on Palestinian agricultural lands."

And there have been announcements that more settlements will be built. How is this meant to help bolster Abbas? How is this meant to implement Annapolis or the Road Map? Or is this all a sham that is leaving the Palestinians with no option but to accept a Bantustan? Is Olmert serious about a Palestinian state? Is he serious when he speaks of an existential threat for Israel when a one-state solution is argued?

Talking about it is one thing; we can all speculate on why Olmert would be dovish, when most of the Knesset is quite hawkish, or rather, very Zionist to a little Zionist. We are now living in times where Zionism is severely questioned, the Palestinian question is getting a debate or even a say in the conflict in some areas, and Zionists across the board are trying to fit their affinity for a Jewish safe-haven but trying to salvage some form of humanism when it comes to treating their counterparts. They want their Jewish state but yet they want to be free of discriminating Arabs. It simply cannot happen. They cannot have democracy and have a Jewish Israel. It's either one or the other.

Olmert has the power to do something about it. Bush has the power to do something about it. The settlers like to believe that God is on their side or that the politicians are too weak to stop them. The army is with them on that issue; Olmert is stuck in an imbroglio with the Winograd Report. Barak is still Barak. But, as Mark Elf has asked, "are the settlements building themselves?"

Yes. It can be done. Even that war criminal Ariel Sharon dismantled settlements in Gaza. Olmert, who may not have Sharon's temerity or outreach, could really be an opportunist and take it so we can have a dialogue for justice. This issue is not going to fade away. It permeates throughout the world and it won't stop until there is justice. Stop the settlements, Olmert, if you are truly serious about Annapolis. If not, then you doom that summit all too premature (even though most knew it was a failure before it begun). It's refreshing to hear your words, but the settlements don't build themselves.